Oh What a Session It Was
A legislative recap
By Jason Williams

This session the 2007 Legislature went on a gluttonous tax and spending binge — spending $2.6 more than the previous budget. Had lawmakers done nothing, the budget would have grown 15 percent from rising tax receipts flowing in from a booming economy. That would translate to a 15 percent raise for every state employee and 15 percent more for textbooks, police cars and new roads.

It turns out the politicians’ appetites were not satisfied with just 15 percent growth, so they splurged recklessly and approved 21 percent growth in the budget. To help pay for this astonishing 21 percent growth rate they slapped taxpayers with the invoice by passing more than $856 million in new taxes and fees. The high spending threshold created by this legislature is projected to create a billion dollar deficit that the next legislative session must fill or face cuts.

As the state speeds toward a fiscal train wreck, politicians are at the back of the train painting the caboose in gold. The Legislature approved redecorating their offices with a $35 million extreme makeover. The Legislature neglected the chance for tax breaks for families and instead gave tax breaks to Hollywood film companies. They also extended their wild spending spree by passing laws making it easier for local governments to raise their own new taxes.

Abuses of power
This legislative session brought new abuses of power seldom experienced by previous sessions: (1) We witnessed the majority party trying to eliminate the use of minority reports in joint committees, (2) we saw the re-labeling of taxes as fees to avoid the supermajority vote requirement, (3) we stood by as they voted for bill amendments without public hearings and without allowing the public to testify, and (4) we watched as they amended bills with multiple “conceptual” amendments, which only the lawmakers verbally proposing them truly understood.

And we must never forget that the referral bill to gut Measure 37 was magically created by drastically amending a bill and refusing to allow the public to testify on the final result.

Five best lawmakers
Sens. Gary George, Larry George and Jeff Kruse, and Reps. Linda Flores and Kim Thatcher may have been in the minority, but they did everything possible to advance a freedom agenda with their consistent use of press releases, newsletters, press conferences, capitol rallies, and public speaking events. Their hard work deserves to be recognized.

Best majority party lawmaker
The best performing lawmaker from the majority was Sen. Vicki Walker (D-Eugene). Walker worked hard to make government run better by curbing government “golden parachutes” (Remember Ben Canada’s $357,000 and the Baker City school chief’s $260,000?) and requiring state pension fund directors to actually live in Oregon.

Biggest turkey bills
* Creates crime of unlawful use of a shopping cart (punishable by up to 30 days jail).(SB 645)
* Mandates official state dirt as “Jory.” (HJR 48)
* Creates the Task Force on Morale in Kindergarten. (HB 2584)
* Prohibition against the restrictive confinement of a pig. (SB 694)

Words to remember
“Colleagues, I thought this was a great bill until I just found out that I don’t know what I am talking about.” Rep. Donna Nelson

"When the kids get home and they want to get jacked up on Mountain Dew and Ding Dongs that is their parents’ God-given right, and God bless them!" Rep. Scott Bruun On the school junk food ban bill

Note: Budget numbers are based on General Fund and Lottery Funds and are subject to minor changes upon final release of official state budget calculations.

Jason Williams is executive director of the Taxpayer Association of Oregon. He also publishes the online news sources, Oregon Watchdog and Oregon Catalyst.

BrainstormNW - August 2007

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